Today’s show is about red flags buyers should look out for when buying a property.
Reuben and Tessa run through tips and recommendations when checking a house. Tessa shares where and how to look at the roof for any defects, damages, or irregularities. Reuben adds that there’s a lot that can be seen from the ground to alert buyers of a bad roof. He highlights that it’s important to know the age of the roof and shares about obvious roof defects in old and new constructions. They talk about shingles, sagging ridgelines and edges, discoloration, heat loss, ice dams, and insurance claims.
They talk about issues and irregularities with chimneys such as cracks, gaps, patchings, and rebuilt chimneys. Tessa mentions that it’s difficult to determine the true condition of the bricks by a visual analysis from the outside or with a level two chimney inspection. Then they discuss water management- where the water goes and where it’s concentrated. Reuben shares his focus on the front door, rotted windows, rotted sidings, the basement as well as the areas outside the house. They discuss the use of stucco and vinyl as sidings and share building practice failures in the previous decades.
Before looking at houses, Reuben shares that it’s important to have the right tools such as a quality flashlight and good winter boots. He also highlights that they have a class about all things showing red flags for real estate agents. The 1.25-hour Continuous Education class is accessible at StructureTechCE.com .
Send your questions and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The following is a transcription from an audio recording. Although the transcription is largely accurate, in some cases it may be slightly incomplete or contain minor inaccuracies due to inaudible passages or transcription errors.
Bill Oelrich: Welcome, everyone. You’re listening to Structure Talk, a Structure Tech presentation. My name is Bill Oelrich alongside Tessa Murry and Reuben Saltzman, as always, your three-legged stool, coming to you from the Northland talking all things houses, home inspections, and anything else that’s rattling around in our brain. Welcome to today’s episode. We are going to do a show that we call showing red flags, but before we get into our episode, got a little housekeeping stuff to do. We’re post Memorial weekend. Reuben, Tessa, how was it?
Tessa Murry: Great.
Reuben Saltzman: Great. Yeah, it was good. Went up to my parents cabin. Weather did not cooperate entirely, we had rain, we had a high of 65 degrees. I know it was warm in the cities, but it was not warm at the cabin, so we did not get in the water at all, but we were on the water. We got to dock in, did all that initial stuff you gotta do to kinda wake up your cabin for the year. And the trails were super muddy, but sometimes it’s really fun going dirt biking and ATVing on the state trails. Yeah, it was fun, man.
BO: That’s good. You guys use your cabin more like just a base of operations for consuming gasoline.
RS: That is a really good way of putting it, Bill. Yes, yes. It’s where we sleep and eat when we’re not consuming fuel.
TM: That’s nice. I spent some time scrubbing the upper and lower deck at our house and washing it, making it super clean, and then bought some outdoor furniture this weekend and was assembling chairs for a while.
BO: Like at Ikea?
TM: Yes, just like… It wasn’t Ikea, but there was a lot of assembly happening, yes. And also my sister and her husband and their baby came back from Africa last night too, so we went to pick them up and spent a little bit of time with them, but they are, I’m sure trying to deal with the time adjustment here this morning, so.
BO: Sounds fun. Happy to have…
RS: How about you, Bill?
BO: I got a kid graduating high school, which means I’ve done nothing but prepare my house. I was trimming trees, doing various power washing projects, which by the way, if I never pick up a power washer again in my life, it’ll be too soon. What an awful tool. And it’s…
BO: It’s a great…
RS: How do you not like power washing?
BO: Well, and because I didn’t wash the blue stone at my house for 20 years, and now I’m trying to make it look new again. And of course, it’s just a hard project after this long. So nobody cares, and they have no sympathy for me, and I’m not looking for sympathy, but it’s just a wet, abrasive job.
TM: That would have made my deck cleaning project much easier, I’m sure, if I would have had a power washer. Bill, I would have traded you.
BO: Well, you can have mine. I don’t wanna ever use it.
RS: On that topic, I gotta say, if you’re gonna use a power washer to clean your deck, we have seen a lot of decks get royally messed up by people using power washers. I’ve read that you should really never use a power washer to clean it because you’re probably gonna mess it up, you’re gonna score it. But having said that, I’ve done it on my own deck where I’ve used a power washer to clean it, but I got one of those ends. You can get a special end for your power washer where it’s like this round thing, and it’s got these two nozzles that spin. And you go around your deck and it spins really fast, and it makes it so that it’s cleaning it in a circular pattern, and it doesn’t score up your deck. It’s a couple of nozzles that constantly move and it’s very safe, so I use that to clean my deck. I’ve got a composite deck, so it would have been a lot of tougher for me to score mine. For me, you’re kinda cleaning all the algae off. But it worked really well.
BO: My blue stone doesn’t really care what you scored at it. There was a lot of algae and a lot of black stuff. My garage shades it, and so it’s sort of in this spot that doesn’t really dry well, blah, blah, blah. Nobody cares. Anyway, I did a lot of work this weekend. Okay, that’s all. And I feel good and my body is like, “Wow, this is what it’s like to do work, not just sit in front of a computer.” And so, it feels good. Alright, we should probably get to an episode here, but before that, Reuben, if people have questions, they wanna make comments, how do they get a hold of us? We don’t say this often enough, but we really should.
RS: Go to email@example.com. Again, that’s firstname.lastname@example.org. We want to hear from you. You got ideas, you got questions, whatever, we wanna hear.
BO: Yeah, topics. If you want something discussed, please let us know because after doing this for three years, sometimes you’re like, “What should we talk about today?” Light us up here, give us as many show topics as you would want. Today’s episode is about showing red flags, and the reason that we are doing this is because a listener wanted to hear about it. Right, Reuben?
RS: Yeah, yeah, it was basically, hey, tell us what can we do if we’re gonna be out looking at houses. And I wanna buy a house, maybe an investment property or a first-time property, what kind of stuff can I look for as red flags that would say, “Hey, maybe I shouldn’t be buying this property?” What’s your advice? And I said, well, was it just so happens, we have a 1.25-hour CE class that we created for real estate agents with exactly that content. So we’d love to do a podcast talking all things showing red flags. So that’s what this is today.
BO: And this is not gonna get done in one episode. There’s no way, ’cause you…
BO: You guys are both shaking your heads. This is probably at least a two-parter, maybe even three. It depends how wordy you guys get.
RS: Yeah, we won’t get wordy enough for a three-parter, but definitely a two-parter, I think. Yeah, and…
RS: I’ll say this, let’s start the beginning of the show and let’s close the show with this information. We have this available for anybody who wants to see the whole class with all of the slides and getting into kind of deep dive on all of this stuff. For a podcast, we can only talk about this. A lot of these topics, it’s helpful to see photos. We have that class. Again, it’s an hour and 15 minutes. It’s CE credit for licensed real estate agents. You can find it online at structuretechce.com. Again, it’s structuretechce.com, that’s where we have all of our classes. The class is titled Showing Red Flags. It’s not free, but it’s almost free. I think we charge $5 an hour for credit, so this one would be $6.25. I mean, really close to free. I’m not saying this because we’re trying to make $6 on it, I’m saying if you wanna get the whole class, check it out there where our fees are enough to cover what it costs us to host a learning platform online, that’s about it.
BO: Reuben that is designed for agents. Do they have to enter in a real estate number or anything like that, are there any weird things that the average person would need to bypass?
RS: Yeah, you gotta enter in your license number, you know, I don’t care what you put in. It’s not gonna validate your license number, so just put something in that field and it’ll let you in.
RS: You could just put N/A and then we will know not to try to find your information and try to give you credit. Yeah, we will appreciate it if you would put N/A if you’re gonna take this class?
BO: All right. Well, let’s jump right into it. So where do you start on a red flag presentation.
RS: I’d say, we start by saying, before you go to any showing, before you start looking at houses, any of that, you need to have the right tool. And it’s the same tool we talk about with our walk-through consultations, is get a good flash light and bring it along with you, don’t rely on the little pen light on your phone, those flashlights are garbage. Better than nothing, but just a little bit better than nothing. Really get yourself a good flash light, you can buy such nice flashlights today for 50 bucks, even if you gotta run to your local home improvement store and get something off the shelf. I sneer at everything they sell, but still [chuckle] No. I’m joking, but it’s…
BO: You’re a flash light snob, you’re not joking.
RS: I am a flash light snob. But still, it’s gonna be a lot better than the flash light on your phone.
TM: Okay, so let’s get into the actual defects to look for when you’re looking at a house, so let’s start with the roof, ’cause that’s one of the first things that you’ll see when you pull up to the that house, a lot of times that’s one of the biggest concerns for buyers because it can be really expensive to have to replace the a roof, so we’ll dive into roofs here. And our first recommendation for you is to take a walk around the outside of the house and look at the roof from every angle that you can look at it from.
TM: Sometimes you’re buying a house that might be in the city and there’s high density and your neighbors are really close, you might actually need to kind of take a step back and look at that roof from an alley or from across the street to get a good view and we’ve got pictures in this presentation that Reuben was talking about showing red flags. We couldn’t see it from the ground, and we actually had to go across the street to get a view of that roof, but it’s worth it. Sometimes you’ll find defects that are really obvious that way, we’ve got pictures of shingles that are actually coming off the roof, sliding off the roof, they weren’t attached properly. You can look for other irregularities like damaged shingles, patched shingles, that sort of thing, just by doing that walk around the outside, and one tip too is take a look at the south side, especially. The south side seems to get a lot of sun, and it can kind of just wear and tear the roof faster than the other sides, and so look at the south side.
RS: On that one, when you’re talking about focusing on irregularity, it’s like people think it’s, how am I gonna inspect the roof from the ground? But there’s a lot that you can see from the ground. Just looking for exactly that, looking for… If they all look nice and uniform and the line seem to line up pretty well, and then there’s one little section where they don’t. That’s something to be concerned about. If there’s wavy patterns, if there’s areas where if you look at it from just the right angle, you can see the whole roof looks flat, just little areas where you have nails sticking up, will make the shingles not look flat, and you can see it really obviously from the ground. So there’s a lot of stuff that you can see to alert you to a bad roof, just looking from the ground without having to walk it, there’s no substitute for walking a roof, but there’s a lot of stuff you can see from the ground that… So often we pull up to a house and we see defects right when we get there, and the buyers had no idea that this stuff was going on simply because they hadn’t taken the time to just look.
BO: I don’t know want to put you on the spot, but you said that could be a concern and it that seems like, you know, I get it, I get it. But do you often see when you’ve got a roof defect that it’s like, Oh, this whole thing needs to be replaced, or is it something you could just be like, Ah, it’s data, put it in the old… I know more than I did before. Filing bank and move on.
RS: I’d say it always goes in our home inspection report, there have been situations, I remember one in particular where you looked from the ground and it looked pretty nasty, I mean, it looked like all the shingles were all curled up, but then you get on the roof and it was just ever so slightly curled at the edges. These shingles were fine, they had a lot of life left out of them, and the insurance carrier said, you need to replace your roof now, or we are gonna deny you your coverage, and so it was really frustrating for the home buyers, ’cause they had to put a new roof on it and I’m there telling them, your roof is perfectly fine, you’ve got a ton of life left. So Yes, Bill, there are cases where you see these irregularities and it’s almost like you just file it away, but in some cases, it’s not that easy. Something else to look for from the ground is checking to make sure that everything is plumb and level and square, and even. Looking at roof lines, making sure that you don’t have big dips in your roof, making sure that you don’t have sags in the sheathing.
RS: Sometimes you can see areas where the roof sags majorly, where you’ve got portions of the house that may have been added onto and the additions are sagging or you don’t have enough support in the attic, you’ve got sagging ridge lines, and by the way, a ridge line is the very top line of the roof, just in case anyone’s not sure what that is. But you can see all that stuff from a distance, but a lot of the time when you’re on the roof, you don’t notice it. So pay attention from a distance and make sure everything looks square, and it lines up properly.
BO: In terms of sags, we see this a lot in the city where the overhangs will fatigue from snow sitting on them more than the actual roof will, is that something you’re concerned about?
RS: It’s something we put in our reports, we make it known that you’ve got some sagging at the edges, but I’ve not don’t ever seen one actually collapse. It’s more something that we put in our reports to say, “Yeah, we saw it and were not especially concerned about it,” that’s usually as far as it goes. Also, like Tessa said, just look for any shingles that seem to be out of place, if you’ve got shingles that are starting to slide, it’ll look like people fasten the shingle just a little bit out of place from where they should be. And usually, that’s not what happened, usually what’s happening is you’ve got shingles siding off because they weren’t nailed properly or you’ve got wind damage and that stuff you can see from the ground quite easily if you just take the time to look.
TM: And this is not just you know older houses, we’ve seen improperly fastened shingles on brand new construction too, so don’t just think that if you’re buying a house that’s brand new or five years old, that the roof is gonna be fine.
RS: Great point, Tess. And you know a new construction, one of the biggest defects that we end up finding is nails that are over-driven, and unfortunately that’s one of the things you’ll never be able to see from the ground, but the telltale sign that you have a problem because of that, is shingle sliding out of place. So just to repeat what you said, Tess, it doesn’t matter the age, take your time to walk around the entire house, whether it’s a new construction or the roof was recently replaced, this doesn’t mean you have a perfect roof.
BO: One thing I will mention is discoloration is probably not a big deal for most roofs, right? ‘Cause you’ll see there are… Sometimes there’s galvanized vents or there’s some sort of metal vent and there’s a different color on the shingles below the vents than there are in between them, so don’t worry too much about color, just look more for defects.
RS: Yeah, that is a great point, Bill, because so often when you got that black streaking on the roof, people will kind of freak out about it and they say, “Well, obviously this roof is just about done.” And as far as I’m concerned, that is purely cosmetic. I have never seen that black streaking to cause any type of damage to a shingle, it just makes your roof look bad, that’s it. Yeah, don’t worry about that. And if you don’t like it, you could have someone come out and professionally clean your roof, they would not power wash it, [chuckle] they would use chemicals on there and they might even lightly scrub it with a brush that’s about as soft as a car wash brush. I mean very, very soft bristles, just to agitate the solution a little bit, I’ve tried it on my own house. I blogged about how well it works, and it’ll make that roof look new, so it’s very effective. But, yeah, the black streaking, no concerns, its fine.
BO: Okay, what happens during the winter time when you can’t see a roof? Are there clues to be, that are gonna point you in the direction on those houses?
TM: That’s a good question, and it is a challenge in this cold climate when we have a roof that’s covered in snow, and you know as home inspectors, what we try to do is set up our ladder and brush off some snow and we shoot for that south-facing side to look at those shingles since that’s usually the side that fails first. Now, I don’t know if you’re looking at buying a house, if you’re gonna show up with a ladder and you can climb that and scrape off the snow, but if you can, that’s a good way to take a look at a sampling of the shingles for anything that could be really at the end, obviously at the end of its life. But if you can’t do that, you can still use the snow to show you some other things. And one thing I like to do is look for melt spots on the roof, and if you’ve got certain areas that have no snow on them and other areas that have a ton of snow, that’s a good indication that you’ve got heat loss happening in that area, and that can be a sign, obviously, maybe you need some air sealing, some insulation, something like that going on. But also it’s a good time to look for ice dams, does this house have issues with ice dams, and so that snow can be almost like a little road map for heat loss and how your house is going to perform.
BO: I mean, if you’ve got ice dams when you roll up to the house, there’s no need to ask any questions, you know what you’ve got going on, which people complain, well, I can’t see the roof, but there’s a lot you can gain from a house by looking at it in the winter.
RS: Yeah. So one other thing to think about for roofs is roofs that are old. Now, there’s no carbon dating that I know of to figure out the exact age of a roof. The best tools that we have is looking up permit history, we’ve got this tool called Build Facts, and we order this for every one of our home inspections for our clients, but we don’t tell people about it. It’s just kind of a little bonus thing that we give them, because in some cities they don’t keep very good records, and we can’t really get a whole lot of permit data.
RS: So we don’t wanna tell people we’re giving you this thing and then not be able to give it. But we do just slip it in there and we say, “Hey, by the way, we ordered the permit history for your house, and here it is,” it costs us a few bucks on every inspection, and it’s super useful data on a lot of homes, it’ll tell you the age of the roof, and it’s important because insurance companies get really funny about roofs that are past the 15-year mark, and we won’t get into all the specifics for this podcast, there’s a whole podcast that we recorded, I think I was on the critical critical-ness of the 15-year mark of your roof. We may have had Charles Thayer on to talk about that, so we won’t get into it here. But knowing the age of the roof is a really helpful thing, you may have a seller’s disclosure where you can rely on what they told you, but if you have a means of looking up the permit history to figure out the age of the roof, try to do that. I would definitely try looking at permit history at some point before you finalize your purchase on a house.
BO: If I’m not mistaken on the disclosures, it’s like it’s a roof older than eight years or newer than eight years, and I don’t know why they chose eight years, but that, I believe is the question on the actual real skate disclosure.
TM: I think you’re right.
RS: I think it may have been used to have been that… I think the current question today says, What is the age of the roof?
BO: Well, good, because…
RS: I believe it’s old language you’re referring to, but I’m not positive about that.
BO: Okay, well, good, good. Because I don’t buy and sell a lot of houses being here for my entire life anyway. Alright, are we done on the roof, or is there more that you wanna touch on up on the roof?
RS: That’s it for roofs. The big takeaway there is look at every side that you possibly can. And just because it’s winter, it doesn’t mean you can’t see anything. A lot of these roofs have snow that is blown off or melted snow, take your time to walk around the outside of the house. And especially, just one other tip, if you’re buying a house in winter, for the love of love get yourself some good winter boots and take the time to walk around the outside yard, walk it from a distance, walk it up close. My goodness, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve done inspections in the dead of winter where there is a foot or two of snow and mine are the first tracks around the outside of the house. And that snow has been there for a long time. And it just tells me, these people buying the house never took the time to walk around the outside and just see what they’re getting.
BO: Well, in a normal environment, if you’re gonna hire a home inspector to come out and do this, then, hey, they can charge through the snow. But right now, when people are opting out or trying to do a skinny inspection or some other version, that’s good advice.
RS: Yeah, absolutely. But even for a full home inspection, would you consider buying a house if you hadn’t at least walked around at one time? [chuckle] I don’t know, maybe I’m just crazy. Maybe it’s normal for people to not look at the front and back of their house. But to me, it seems like a really big deal.
BO: Let’s get us back on track here.
RS: You’re not with me. It’s fine, it’s fine.
BO: Okay. You’ve got chimneys up on the screen. Nobody can see, but I can see it. So what are you looking for in chimneys?
TM: Well, so first of all, does your house have a chimney? And you might wanna walk around the entire outside to verify if you have a chimney or not. But we’re focusing here our discussion on masonry chimneys first. So, older houses tend to have these masonry structures, and a lot of times they get neglected. And the first thing to go is usually that either concrete crown or mortar cap, it just doesn’t get maintained. Water gets in, it cracks it, it breaks it. Water starts getting into the bricks itself on the chimney chase, mortar starts coming loose, brick starts falling. And over time, if it’s not maintained or repaired, then it can start to fall apart. And chimneys are pretty expensive to deal with. And so, look at that chimney from all four sides just like the roof. You’ve seen chimneys that have been tuck-pointed and maintained from the front, and then you walk to the back and it’s a different story. It looks like a completely different chimney. So look at it from all four sides. And actually, Reuben, you’ve got a picture of a specific type of chimney up here. Do you wanna talk about that?
RS: Yeah, this is one we’ve talked about it on the podcast before, I know. I can’t remember under what context. Maybe one was when we were talking about our timeline for house issues.
TM: I think so, yeah.
RS: This is a chimney, it’s a stucco-covered chimney, and you’ll find these on houses typically built between about 1920 and 1940, somewhere in that range where they use this limestone brick, it’s never supposed to get wet. If it does get wet, it does not hold up. And the idea was if we cover it with stucco, we’ll be all good. It’s gonna protect it. But as we’ve learned, water gets to stucco. And once these chimneys are about a 100 years old or something like that, they really start to fall apart. I blogged about this, we’ve talked about it on the podcast, there’s surely thousands of these chimneys all over the Twin Cities where they’re covered with stucco, and what’s underneath the stucco is just garbage. It’s bricks that are disintegrating, they’re falling apart. We’ve got photo after photo of this on our website. So if you’re buying a house with a stucco-covered chimney, somewhere around 100 years old, heads up. You could be in for some very, very expensive repairs on those. And any irregularities, any little cracks, any signs of patching, any of that, that’s a red flag. Or maybe a yellow flag, I don’t know. It’s a concerned area.
BO: Yeah, it’s be reasonable and ask the next question, what do you know about this chimney? Have you ever had issues? Or ask another question.
TM: Well, here’s a tough thing too. We found, Reuben, that you can’t determine the condition of those bricks from just a typical visual analysis from the outside like you would get with a home inspection, and you can’t really determine that with the next level of chimney inspection, which we call Level 2 chimney inspection where you use a camera to scope the clay tiles or the liner of the inside, so what does someone do if they’re trying to figure out if these bricks are garbage under the stucco?
RS: Tess, it’s just about impossible. Really all that we can do as home inspectors is come out there and look for any irregularities, looking for patched areas, looking for ways that water can get in. And if it all looks 100% perfect and pristine, there’s really nothing else we can say about it. We gotta say, “It looks like it’s fine, we don’t know what’s underneath here. But if there are concern areas, if we got cracks, if we’ve got patched areas, any of that, then we call for further inspection.”
BO: One thing to note, you see this a lot in the city. The stucco ends at the roofline, and then from the roofline up, it’s bricks. Well, that’s because that’s been rebuilt. They’ve already had an issue, they rebuilt it. So whether you’re gonna have issues below, who knows. But it’s just… Those are just clues to the history of what’s gone on here, because it was probably stucco all the way up at one point.
TM: And if you have a masonry chimney too and a wood-burning fireplace, we’ve talked about this on the podcast a lot too, but expect problems with that. And we won’t get into all the details again, but…
RS: You’re so negative, Tess.
TM: Well, have you seen a wood-burning masonry fireplace that passes a Level Two chimney inspection?
RS: I’ve still got my hopes up, Tess.
TM: I don’t think I have. If there’s cracks or gaps in between those clay tiles or you’ve actually you got a picture up here on the screen you be sticking a hand through one of the clay tiles, it’s in such bad shape. Then they’re… Technically, it’s not safe to burn wood in.
BO: I think those are fantastic chases to install your gas burning fireplace insert into.
TM: I agree. Agreed.
RS: Yeah, but the big point here Tess is making is that if you’ve got your heart set on a wood-burning fireplace, I don’t know what to tell you. I’m not gonna be the one to share the bad news, but there’s not a lot of them out there that are in good shape, most of the ones that are safe to still burn wood are gonna be the fairly new metal prefabricated ones that just don’t have the same feel as the masonry ones. And the masonry ones, if you wanna get those up and going, it’s expensive, it’s a lot of work to get to that point, so…
TM: Yeah. Didn’t we do a whole podcast on that? I think we did.
RS: Probably a few. We’ve probably done a few on it, yeah.
TM: Yeah, if you wanna dive more into this subject, check out our other podcasts on chimneys that we’ve done.
TM: Picture after picture of chimney defects here.
BO: Okay. I’m gonna ask you guys a chimney question, ’cause we see this sometimes, you see rectangular flue sticking out of the top and you see round flue sticking out the top. What’s the difference and why?
RS: Well, I can tell you that the way the smoke and heat want to travel up inside that chimney, it wants to travel in a circle. So, even if you have a big rectangular flue, the exhaust gases are surely only going to use the area of the largest circle that you could fit within that rectangle, I found this fascinating when I was taking some classes on chimney inspections, so even though you got more volume or more area, it’s not gonna use all of that area, and the reason they would use the squares is because you don’t build round chimneys, the tiles just fit within the chimney much better.
BO: Yeah, and it’s always been sort of my experience that the round ones are attached to a boiler or a water heater or both, and the rectangular ones are for your wood-burning stove.
RS: Yes, yes. Good point, Bill.
BO: You see an old house with the chimney in the middle of it, it’s got a round flue at the top, it’s probably not because there’s a wood-burning stove attached to it, it’s probably for the boiler.
RS: Yeah, in fact, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a wood-burning fireplace venting into a round masonry flue. That’s a good point.
BO: Yeah, and fixing the appliance chimney is a way different and easier process than it is fixing the wood burning fireplace chimney.
RS: Yeah, and you know what I apologize, I just said a round masonry flue, I meant to say a round clay tile flue, excuse me. It looks like terracotta.
BO: That’s what I was referring to as well.
RS: Yeah, yeah, I knew what you meant. I said it wrong, sorry.
BO: Good stuff. Okay, are we done with chimneys or do you wanna beat on them some more? God knows they’re an easy target.
RS: No, we’re good with chimneys.
TM: Let’s keep moving.
BO: Alright. Now you’re off the roof, away from the chimneys, what are you looking for next, Reuben?
RS: Next, we’re looking at water management, and I know this is a topic we’ve talked about a lot on this show, I was just thinking about where water goes, taking a step back from the house, looking at the roof lines and thinking, if you’re a drop of water, where do you go? And thinking about where all of the water gets concentrated, and if it’s a house built within the last 30 years or so, I can tell you where all the water is gonna go, it’s gonna be concentrated right to the front door. That’s how we build all of the houses for… That’s how we’ve been doing it for the past several decades. But think about where all that water goes and focus your efforts on those areas, think, “Alright, this is where I need to be more cognizant about rotted windows, rotted siding, water in the basement on the other side of where all this water gets concentrated.”
RS: And think about the areas on the outside of the house that get wet, there’s a bunch of the houses in my neighborhood where we got these little bump out bay windows and the windows stick way out from the wall, they don’t have any overhang protection, so every time it rains, no matter which way the wind is blowing, these things get wet, and I can spot the rotted windows from the sidewalk as I’m out walking my dog, I just kinda… I suck in air through my teeth, I go, “Oh, that one’s rotted.”
RS: And I’ll be pointing it out to my wife as we’re going around, she’s like, “Don’t point at the neighbor’s houses,” I’ll do it subtly…
BO: Ever tell you to stop inspecting?
RS: All the time, all the time, yeah. And I’m pretty good at it now. I’ve learned my lesson, lessons after many decades of this, it feels like… But yeah, look for those windows that stick out that don’t have protection, those are gonna be the ones that rot first.
TM: That’s why I love 19… We’ve talked about this too, 1950s, 1960s Ramblers, just one-story houses that have a hip roof where it just sheds the water evenly in every direction of the house, and they’ve got large overhangs that protect the walls and the windows. You don’t really have to worry about water getting into those walls on those ranch 1960s houses, but you take a two-story house with no overhang and lots of exposure around windows and on the wall, and you’re just inviting more potential water-intrusion problems on a house like that.
RS: Yes, yes, exactly. So that’s probably the biggest thing when we’re thinking about water management on the outside, but also different types of siding. Almost every type of siding is very good at hiding water intrusion, and I’m talking vinyl, steel, aluminum, stucco, fiber cement, just about anything we look at. The one type of siding that’s not good at hiding water damage is hard board siding also known as masonite. When that stuff rots it falls apart, it looks like high-grade cardboard on the side of your house when that stuff rots, but…
TM: And this is… Just to clarify, this is kind of like a wood fiber pulp that’s been pressed together, and we see a lot of it from houses, at least I’ve seen a lot of them on ’70s, ’80s houses, maybe even a little bit newer than that too.
BO: Yeah, well it was used up until the introduction of the OSB types of siding.
RS: Yeah, the big big name I’m thinking about is LP, Louisiana Pacific, and their inner seal siding, that stuff failed miserably and it just rotted off of houses all over, and we talked to some old-school people and even talk to them about the newer LP smart side and they want nothing to do with it just because it has the name LP attached to it.
BO: Well that makes perfect sense.
RS: It’s a completely different product, but a lot of people have long memories.
BO: You’d never buy an American car if your memory is long.
RS: I know, right.
BO: The Pinto was not a good part of Ford’s history, let’s just put it that way.
RS: Yeah, yeah, exactly. Everyone has their black eyes. And then maybe the last thing to think about on the outside… Well, two more things. One we’re siding is, if you’re buying a house with newer stucco. And when I say newer stucco, I’m talking late ’80s up through just about today, and when I say stucco, I’m thinking stucco or stone veneer. Because as we’ve talked about on this podcast stone veneer is the same thing as stucco, it behaves exactly like stucco, it performs like stucco, it’s put together very similarly to stucco. If you have one of those two types of siding on a home, man, don’t… Here’s my advice, don’t buy that house unless you’re gonna hire someone to do intrusive moisture testing. It means drilling holes in the wall, sticking a probe in there and testing the moisture content and structural soundness of the wall sheeting behind that stucco. Just don’t even consider it. If that’s off the table, if you don’t have the option of doing that, don’t even consider buying a house with stucco or stone veneer if it’s been built within the last… I don’t know, 30 years, 35 years or so, ’cause…
BO: Okay, I wanted you to make that qualification because that’s a big key to this conversation. It’s not your run in the mill house in the city that was built a long time ago with stucco on it, that’s not what you’re concerned about.
RS: Yeah, those have not had the same types of problems. It’s really the newer stuff where we changed a lot of the ways that houses were built, kinda all at the same time, right in the very late ’80s, early ’90s. It’s everything from that point on that we’re concerned about. Previous, we’re all good.
TM: You know what, I will add though, Reuben, I have seen some houses in the ’70s that I would be concerned about too. And like you said, we changed a lot of our building practices and everything all at once that led to these failures, but I think houses in the ’70s could kinda tip the scale too. Because some of this problem results from water getting in into the wall and not being able to dry out, and the wetting is greater than the drying of that wall system and it leads to rot. And in the ’70s, we were filling our walls with insulation, we were using poly vapor barriers, and we had some composite wall material sheathing stuff like OSB or Buffalo Board, fiber board that can rot a lot faster too. So I know you say late ’80s, but me personally, I would also maybe have some red flags if I saw issues with stucco in the early ’80s or ’70s even.
RS: I agree, I don’t think there’s any age that’s immune to problems. Even, I had a cousin buy a house that had stucco put on, I think it was the ’40s. And when they need… I was there when all that stucco was coming off and you could see where the water had been coming in and the wall just had severe rot going on. So there’s no age of house that’s immune, there’s no type of siding that’s immune. But this particular type of siding and age, that’s the most problematic in my mind…
RS: Is late ’80s and…
RS: After that. But no, like you said…
RS: There’s no age that’s immune.
TM: And it’s a bold statement to say you wouldn’t even consider buying a house without doing intrusive moisture test. But just so people can understand, give them an idea of what the worst case scenario cost could be if there’s a problem in a house like that.
RS: Oh, six figures, easy. Yeah…
TM: And we’ve seen that, right? Where people have…
RS: We have seen that. Yes.
TM: They take the stucco off and the entire sheathing studs around the exterior is rotted and it needs to be replaced.
RS: Yeah. And in fact, we had a guest on, probably within the last year or so, where she was a homeowner at a town home association. And turns out her whole association had these problems and there are no visual signs of it anywhere at the outside, and there’s not a ton of stone veneer either. It was small sections of stone veneer, but what was behind it was just severely rotted. And she figured this out, I think when she saw carpenter ants or something walking around inside her house.
TM: Yeah, yeah.
BO: Did I ever tell you the story about HOA conversation I had with somebody and they wanted us to do a bunch of inspecting for this, that and the other. And I said, “Well, I think the biggest problem you have, or it’s the fact that this entire community is built out of stucco, the cladding on all your houses are stucco.” And I said, “If I would spend any money there, I’d try to get a handle on how much of a problem you maybe have, if you have a problem at all.” And they looked at me like, “Are you nuts? Like, why would you even think that was an issue?” [laughter] One of the people who was on the board, she’s like, “Yeah, I had my house tested when I bought it, did some of that testing.” And I said, “Was there any problems?” She said, “Yeah, there were some issues.” And they said, “Did you fix it?” And she said, “No, I just bought the house.” I’m like, oh, God.
RS: Oh, my goodness. What do you say to that?
BO: Well, good luck. Here’s the concern on any of this, and I’ll just be straight up or… I’m not worried about the stucco, I just don’t wanna own somebody else’s problem and learn that it was a problem before I paid for the house. That’s… I just wanna make sure the buck stops where the buck should stop, and if it ends up stopping with you, that makes me feel sad for you, so it’s nothing more than that.
BO: Alright, so as we always do, we’ve lingered on subjects longer than they probably should have, and we are gonna probably end up with a part three, Reuben, ’cause we can’t get through anything.
BO: ‘Cause we talk too much. But… So let’s put a wrap on today’s episode, and the next time we pick up this conversation, we’ll finish the exterior and begin working on the inside of the house for the red flags. But Reuben, one more time before I pull the plug on this episode, if people have questions, if they have comments, if they wanna talk about show topics, where do they go?
RS: Send an email to email@example.com. Again, firstname.lastname@example.org. And if you would like this whole class, you wanna watch it, it’s well worth your $6.25, I guarantee it.
RS: You can head on over to structuretechce.com.
BO: Perfect, perfect. And any complaints about my ripping on the Ford Pinto, please you can send them to that box as well. Sorry, Ford, it was good, yeah.
BO: Alright, that’s it, that’s it, let’s put a wrap on today’s episode. You’ve been listening to Structure Talk, a Structure Tech presentation. My name is Bill Aldrich, alongside Tessa Murray and Reuben Saltzman. Thank you for listening, we will catch you next time.